FORT HOOD, Texas – Soldiers choose to serve for any number of reasons, whether to support their families, to follow in a relative’s footsteps, to make a better life for themselves, or simply to ensure a better life is possible for other Americans.
One Ironhorse soldier chose the path of service for a different reason.
Maj. Marshall Coen, the chaplain for the 1st “Ironhorse” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, made the decision to pursue a career in the Army, because he felt a higher power needed him to serve not only as a soldier, but as a chaplain.
“The Lord led me in this direction,” said Coen, a Killeen, Texas, native. “It was a call.”
A self-identified Army brat, Coen grew up in a strong Christian family travelling the world through his father’s quartermaster officer career. Initially, Coen was not interested in pursuing a life involved with the ministry or the military.
“The Lord began to really instill in my heart and in my life that he had a higher calling for me,” Coen said.
After his freshman year of college, Coen decided to work on a degree toward ministry. Upon finishing his undergraduate degree, he served as the youth minister at the First Baptist Church in Killeen.
During that time, Coen reconnected with a young lady in the congregation he knew from high school and married her in 2000.
Also a native of Killeen, Marshall’s wife, Jill, felt they had a comfortable life.
Then several military chaplains began visiting their church.
“(The chaplains) just started talking (to us) about the chaplaincy,” Jill said. “We started thinking something new was coming.”
Marshall and Jill felt as though their lives were being pointed in the direction of the Army.
“The Lord slowly began to instill in (us) that he did not call us to be complacent,” Marshall said. “He did not call us to be comfortable, safe and secure in ministry. He called us to take risks, to step out on faith.”
After Marshall decided to join the military, he resigned his position at the church and took steps to become an Army chaplain.
While attending seminary to work on a master’s degree in divinity - a requirement necessary to be an Army chaplain - Marshall’s father swore him into the Army as an officer at his commissioning ceremony in April of 2004.
Maj. Rich West, the 1st Cavalry Division Family Life Chaplain, said he believes most chaplains share the same sense of calling that Marshall felt.
“They feel like God has led them and guided them and put this burden on their heart to join the military to care for Soldiers who are deploying and to provide religious support,” said West, a native of San Diego.
West said Marshall is passionate about caring for Soldiers, and in his supervisory role that includes caring for chaplains in the battalion’s he oversees.
When Lt. Col. Addison Burgess, the 1st Cavalry Division chaplain, needed a chaplain to serve the Ironhorse Brigade, West said he was looking for two qualities in particular.
“Marshall is one of those unique Army chaplains that has a really good balance of the professional military officer skill set coupled with strong pastoral personality and skill set,” West said. “Chaplain Coen has both of those qualities excellently balanced and in high measure, and that’s what Chaplain Burgess was looking for.”
Through his charismatic, approachable and energetic personality, it really shows that Marshall cares for his soldiers, West added.
When people see him, Marshall said he hopes they see his good qualities, but most importantly, he hopes they see the love and light of the Lord.
“There are potentially a lot of people that are hurting in the Army,” Marshall said. “Hurt can manifest in different ways, but joy and hope can penetrate the hardship of the military.”
At the beginning of his career, Marshall said his goal was to be true to his roots and calling, and to make sure his family was taken care of.
“My father modeled for me what was important which are faith, family, then career,” Marshall said. “I see some of the sacrifices that are required, and I understand what’s important.”
Along the way, Jill has remained supportive of Marshall’s career even when times were tough.
“We’re a team,” Jill said with a smile. “If I’m not going to be supportive, it’s not going to work.”
The biggest challenge for Jill is when Marshall can’t be home, she said, adding that flexibility and her military upbringing helped get her through those times.
Jill said her most rewarding moment was during Marshall’s second deployment to Iraq in 2010. She was ready for him to be home, but had a change of heart after seeing a photograph.
“I remember seeing a picture of him baptizing a Soldier in Iraq and thinking, ‘That’s what this is all about,’” She said, tearing up. “He’s away, (and) it’s for a greater purpose, so I can handle it. It made it a lot better. It made it worth it ... I think that was my proudest moment to see the fruit of all of his work on a spiritual level.”
He recalled the baptism as one rewarding moment of his career, but said his most rewarding moment was coming home from deployment and seeing his wife and family.
Marshall, the father of three boys, said his greatest accomplishment is his family.
“The strength of the soldier is defined by how the home is,” Marshall said. “My success is very much defined by the support I get from family. It goes a long way to have support.”